Ed tech in trouble in Congress

Four technology-specific initiatives totaling $134 million are among the many education programs still at risk as House and Senate lawmakers try to resolve their differences over 2004 spending.

Three of these four programs were preserved in the Senate’s version of the education spending bill but were cut in the House version, which more closely follows President Bush’s 2004 budget request.

The fourth program, Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3)–a $62.5 million effort that promotes partnerships between colleges of education and K-12 schools to help new teachers integrate technology into their instruction–appears in neither the House nor the Senate appropriations bills.

Losing PT3 would deal a blow to schools across the country, many of which have struggled to recruit high-quality teachers who come to the classroom prepared to integrate technology into the curriculum, said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

The Bush administration says PT3 is unnecessary because the federal Improving Teacher Quality program already provides nearly $3 billion to support teacher preparation and professional development initiatives.

But Knezek, who served as director of ISTE’s National Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology before being named chief executive of ISTE, said he wasn’t concerned so much about the loss of the funding itself as he was about the loss of ideals that mostly likely would result from the absence of federal leadership on this topic.

“K-12 education is a system,” he said. “We need to take a systematic approach, and that includes recruiting highly qualified teachers who know how to use technology.”

Still, ed-tech lobbyists have not given up on the program entirely. In September, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) circulated an Action Alert to its members hoping to drum up enough support to revive PT3 during the negotiations process.

It isn’t just PT3 that is in trouble. Keith Krueger, executive director of CoSN, said the situation is indicative of funding shortages across the board.

“Overall funding levels [for school technology] are not growing,” Krueger said. “For the most part, [Congress is] not even funding these programs up to their authorization levels.”

When nearly every state and district faces budget cuts of historic proportions, now is not the time for the federal government to shrink from its commitment to educational technology, he said.

Of the two overall education spending bills in negotiation at press time, the Senate’s version is the more supportive of technology. Passed by the Senate in September, it would provide funding at current-year, or slightly lower, levels for a number of programs the House and the Bush administration would prefer to cut.

For instance, the Senate bill preserves the Community Technology Centers program, an initiative to help build computer centers in low-income areas, at $20 million in 2004. Although that’s more than a third less than the $32 million the program received in 2003, it’s still better than the preference in the House, where lawmakers voted to cut the program.

The same can be said for the Star Schools initiative, which supports the development of telecommunications services and audio-visual equipment in underserved schools. Last year, the program received $27.5 million. This year, however, the Senate reduced support to $20.5 million, while the House cut its funding entirely.

In the case of Ready to Teach, which works with public broadcasters to provide educational and professional development resources to schools, Senate lawmakers increased funding to $14.4 million, up from $12 million last year, while the House again sided with President Bush and voted to extinguish the program.

On the bright side, both chambers agreed to fund the Regional Technology in Education Consortia, or RTECs, at $10 million–the same amount as last year. Bush’s budget proposed the elimination of this program as well.

Funding for the Education Technology Block Grant program–now the main source of federal funding for school technology-would remain steady for the third year in a row, at $695 million in both versions of the education spending bill.

But “any time you level-fund a program, you’re essentially giving it a cut, because you’re not accounting for inflation,” said Mary Kusler, legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators.

In defense of proposed cuts to technology-specific programs, the Bush administration argues that the president’s 2004 budget actually calls for a $2.4 billion increase in overall education funding.

In fact, the president’s $2.23 trillion budget for fiscal year 2004 provides $53 billion to the Education Department (ED) specifically-the ‘largest dollar increase for any domestic agency,” according to Education Secretary Rod Paige.

For the most part, those increases are at best indirectly related to technology. For instance, Bush has asked for nearly $1 billion more in Title I funds, as well as another $1 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which Congress hoped to reauthorize later in the year. The administration also has requested an additional $1.9 billion increase for Pell Grants to help low-income students afford college.

But when it comes to ed-tech funding, activists say, this has been a year of lowered expectations.

“From the technology perspective specifically, people are not expecting to see much,” Kusler said.

The Bush administration says the increased flexibility of NCLB means school districts can take funds earmarked for other purposes and apply them toward technology, if local school leaders so choose. But ed-tech advocates at CoSN and ISTE question whether the federal government is providing enough support to ensure that schools are up to the task at hand, which includes meeting the provisions of the new federal law.

When asked whether the government has provided enough resources for schools to meet the challenges of NCLB, ISTE’s Knezek said there’s no question the funds fall well short of the need. “Go into any Title I school and look at what it truly would take,” he said. “[Lawmakers are] not even coming close.”

In whatever way the debate shakes out, lawmakers no doubt will try to avoid the legislative gridlock that left ED and other federal agencies without a 2003 budget until February. But even that might prove difficult, because Congress will be forced to hammer out a consensus on domestic spending while working simultaneously to come to terms on an $87 billion supplemental funding request to help rebuild Baghdad and other Iraqi cities still reeling in the wake of war.

Washington’s fiscal 2004 officially began Oct. 1, but federal operations are supported by resolutions continuing the funding of the previous fiscal year until the new budget becomes law.

See these related links:

Consortium for School Networking http://www.cosn.org

International Society for Technology in Education http://www.iste.org

U.S. Department of Education http://www.ed.gov

American Association for School Administrators http://www.aasa.org

U.S. Department of Education Grant Programs
Description 2003 Funding Senate 2004 House 2004 President Bush 2004
Community Technology Centers–This program creates or expands community technology centers to give technology access and training to residents living in poor urban and rural communities. The Bush administration wants to eliminate this program, preferring to target these funds toward higher-priority areas and other programs that perform similar functions. $32.3 million $20 million $0 $0
Early Reading First–These competitive grants to school districts and nonprofit organizations support activities in existing pre-school programs designed to enhance the verbal skills, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and pre-reading skills of children from birth through age five. Funds are targeted to communities with high numbers of low-income families. $75 million $85 million $100 million $100 million
Educational Technology State Grants–These grants help state, district, and school efforts to integrate technology into the classroom, because few teachers have the knowledge, skills, and curricula needed to use technology effectively to improve student achievement. States allocate half of the funds to districts by formula and the remainder competitively to high-need districts, or consortia that include such a district, in partnership with an entity having expertise in integrating technology into the curriculum. Districts may use their funds to train teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum, develop and implement high-quality information technology courses, and purchase effective technology-based curricula. $695.5 million $695.5 million $695.5 million $700.5 million
Improving Teacher Quality State Grants–This program combines two old grant programs–the Class Size Reduction Program and Eisenhower Professional Development State Grants–into one program designed to strengthen teachers’ skills and knowledge to build a high-quality teaching force. Funds also may be used to update teacher certification or licensure requirements or for alternative certification, tenure reform, merit-based teacher performance systems, differential and bonus pay for teachers in high-need subject areas, and teacher mentoring programs. $2.93 billion $2.85 billion $2.93 billion $2.85 billion
Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology–This program trains pre-service teachers to integrate technology into the classroom. The Bush administration wants to eliminate the program because its efforts duplicate activities funded by the Educational Technology State Grants and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants programs. $62.5 million $0 $0 $0
Reading First State Grants–These funds are used to infuse high-quality, scientifically-based reading research into school reading instruction so every child can read by the end of third grade. Funds are used to help schools and districts provide teachers professional development in reading instruction, adopt and use reading diagnostics for students in kindergarten through third grade to determine where they need help, implement reading curricula that are based on recent findings of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and provide reading interventions for young grade-school children to ensure they can read at grade level by the end of the third grade. $993.5 million $1 billion $1.05 billion $1.05 billion
Ready-to-Teach–This program calls upon public television to improve educational achievement among disadvantaged youth. Within the Ready To Teach program are two components: TeacherLine and Digital Educational Programming Grants. The goal is to provide educational and professional development resources to schools by way of digitally broadcast multimedia content. $12 million $14.4 million $0 $0
Star Schools–This program encourages improved instruction in mathematics, science, and foreign languages, as well as other subjects such as literacy skills and vocational education. It serves underserved populations–including the disadvantaged, illiterate, limited-English proficient, and individuals with disabilities–through the use of advanced telecommunications. $27.3 million $20.5 million $0 $0
Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs)–Title I funds supplemental programs that help poor children meet the same challenging state academic standards as other children. For example, Title I supports more individualized instruction, fundamental changes in the school to improve teaching and learning, and preschool education. $11.75 billion $12.35 billion $12.35 billion $12.35 billion
21st Century Community Learning Centers–This program establishes or expands community learning centers that provide after-school learning opportunities for students–particularly for children who attend high-poverty or low-performing schools–and related services to their families. $1 billion $1billion $1 billion $600 million

eSchool News Staff

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